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Alcohol FAQs – Part 2

Think you already know a lot about this intoxicating substance? Wait, there’s more
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - July 30, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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Alcohol FAQs – Part 2

When I last broached the topic of alcohol FAQs, I talked about why we shouldn’t take medication with alcohol, and why we develop alcohol tolerance through regular drinking.

"Oh come on! There’s got to be more than just two FAQs!” you say? Absolutely right, and we’ll tackle more here.

Why do we turn red after drinking?
The ruddy sheen some people get on their faces or bodies after consuming alcohol is more common among those of East Asian decent, and the phenomenon is also known as the Asian Flush, Asian Glow or Oriental Flush.

Contrary to what folk wisdom claims, this reaction is potentially dangerous. Usually, when a person consumes alcohol, the liquid – composed primarily of ethanol – is first converted into a substance known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and unless it is further converted into acetic acid, it will harm your body.

The body will usually respond by releasing a substance known as aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2) to break down the toxic acetaldehyde into carbon dioxide, water and fats, which are non-toxic and can be processed by the body. The carbon dioxide and water are excreted, whereas the fats are absorbed.

In people who react to alcohol by getting flushed, this conversion process is hindered. Research has indicated that flushing is caused by a deficiency of the ALDH2 gene, and this deficiency obstructs the detoxification of acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde subsequently triggers a condition in the body known as erythema, which causes blood capillaries in the face, neck and shoulders to dilate, leading to redness.

Does heavy drinking lead to a beer belly?
You bet it does! But to draw a direct correlation between beer and your paunch is a tad reductionist – it suggests a mysterious causal relationship between the booze and the fat, which is not entirely accurate.

What gets you a beer belly is, in the final analysis, the amount of calories you consume. If you regularly chow down a mountain of food, you can hardly pin the blame on your tipple alone.

Beer, however, is notoriously high in “empty” calories. Foods that contain a lot of empty calories are high in calories but low in nutritional value. Besides fuelling you up with energy, they don’t contribute much to body functions such as building, repair and maintenance. A can of beer contains about 150 kcal from sugar and not much of anything else. Empty calories are easily broken down and absorbed by our bodies, increasing the likelihood of their being converted into fats.

While it’s true that obesity is caused by a variety of factors, alcohol consumption could be one of the key contributors of weight gain, especially if you’re a heavy drinker. If you’re simply not the type who can abstain totally from alcohol, you might want to consider cutting down or going for lighter beverages.

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